Interview conducted and edited by Mesopotamian Night team member Sargon Alkurge
We had the honor of having the Assyrian singing superstar, Linda George, perform for her first time at the 9th Annual Mesopotamian Night. The crowd was ecstatic when we announced the news and on August 19, 2016, Linda proved that she was well worth the wait! Her performance was spectacular and she truly delivered a masterpiece. In the audience was Mrs. Berlantina Aziz Hogge, who wrote on our Facebook page, “What an Amazing, memorable night, full of amazing old music, choir, art, orchestra and our legendary true Assyrian Singer Linda George. She is a queen, brought my tears, joy and HOPE in my heart.” Another longtime supporter, Dr. Hilda Kanon wrote: “What an incredible evening the 9th Mesopotamian Night was! Rich with talent, decorated with such beautiful compositions, arrangements, and performances. Everyone in favor of inviting Linda next year say: Aye. I say aye, if nothing else, so she can sing this favorite (Song) of mine. She was mesmerizing.”
The Mesopotamian Night team values the feedback from our audience and we aim do everything we can to keep them happy. After all, the success of our programs hinges the support from our audience and we work tireless with the hope of seeing previous attendees and new attendees at our event every year. Consequently, we are thrilled to announce that Linda has accepted our invitation to perform again at our Tenth Anniversary Mesopotamian Night Gala to be held on October 7, 2017, at the historic and beautiful California Theatre in San Jose, California.
Last year, we posted Linda George’s biography and achievements on our website and we created a video clip that was introduced at the event, but I wanted to wet our reader’s palette with something different this year. I took the opportunity to know a little about Linda from previous telephone conversations and also following her singing career and activism, but this time around I wanted to hear it directly from her. It is an honor and pleasure to have this opportunity to chat with the living legend, Linda George, about her musical world and her impression about last year’s Mesopotamian Night.
Sargon: With popular demand, your music is spotlighted in this year’s production of the Mesopotamian Night program again. What do you feel about the feedback from the audience and others? Give us your assessment of last year’s overall production?
Linda: I received great feedback from the audience that attended and even more praise from my fans on social media. People recognized and enjoyed the songs that I performed because I hardly sing them anywhere and to combine that with the amazing orchestration, truly made it a night to remember for years to come. Everywhere I traveled I was asked, “Are we going to have Mesopotamian Night here in our city?” That brought a smile to my face, to finally see that my nation is expecting bigger productions from us, the vocalists. They want to hear all of those hit songs that they heard in their childhood, sparking great memories.
Sargon: Last year, you worked with many of the Mesopotamian Night organizing team members and directors. You worked with composers such as George Somi and Devin Farney that orchestrated your songs. You also collaborated with eight backup singers and performed on stage with a 45-piece live orchestra under the direction of Maestro John Kendall Baily. How was it working with that many individuals?
Linda: Working with such a talented and well accomplished team was beyond a dream. The songs came out magical with such immaculate orchestration and incredible conducting I felt that my songs were taken to a magical land.
I’m utterly blessed!
Sargon: Last year, you performed seven of your songs that were completely rearranged and orchestrated which was played by the 45-piece live orchestra the Mesopotamia Orchestra Ensemble. What should our audience expect from you this year? Are you going to perform the same songs?
Linda: This year’s selection of songs is absolutely different than last year’s repertoire and newly arranged music. We picked seven beautiful songs with versatility that embrace classic, folk, and pop tunes to indulge every taste. Some of them I have never performed before and what a better night to perform them than at Mesopotamian Night! These songs were written and composed by some of the most humble lyricists and composers who have been behind many of my hits for the past 30 years. They, too, deserve to see their art presented at the highest levels.
Having these songs played by an almost 50-piece orchestra truly takes the song from earth to the moon. Just mesmerizing!
Sargon: You have informed me that you have prepared a little surprise for our attendees on Oct. 7th!! Performing a brand new song called “Shemsha Zreqlah” that you have not released on an album, nor has it ever been played in public. You are dedicating it to the Nineveh Plain Protection Unit (NPU) security forces in the Homeland. Can you tell us a little more about it?
Linda: “Shemsha Zreqlah”, indeed the Sun is rising on the plains of Nineveh which is the path of these men who I salute as my heroes. And to all the other men that are standing tall in our Homeland. It is a new song by one of the most prominent composers of my generation, Shamon Kena. This song confirmed my feelings when I visited the NPU base in Alqosh and their headquarters in Qaraqosh!
So it’s a last minute production gift to our beloved Mesopotamian Night audience. George Somi and I could not possibly deliver anything better or more suitable than this amazing musical tribute to all those great men in “Athra” which will also serve as the grand finalé in honor of the 10th Annual Mesopotamian Night!
Sargon: What role does Assyrian nationalism play in your music?
Linda: I’m very proud to have many nationalistic hits and cannot imagine my singing career without nationalism in it. From the beginning, when I released my first album, the first song was titled “Nishra d’ Atour”. My next album included the hit song “Kursia d’ Malkoota” which I picked as the title of the album, too. Nationalism has also influenced some of the love songs that I have written and composed, such as “Talokh Banipal”, “Khamra Teeqa” and “Parkahneeta”. I made sure to point out the history of my homeland and my ancestors in my songs – it’s part of who I am. My DNA has transpired to become this iconic naturalistic figure!
Sargon: Many people know you as a singer, but you are also a great Assyrian patriot. Those that know you up-close have witnessed your dedication to our cause and your activism. How important is that for you? Where do you find the time to do it?
Linda: It has been my duty since 2001 to return to “Athra” and sing for my beloved people regardless of the risk in numerous occasions. It wasn’t until the past 3 years that I have become the daughter to my beloved mothers in the elderly home and the mother to all the sick and abandoned children. Not only by providing funds but also with the unconditional love that I never get tired of giving to them. In return, I receive prayers and blessings from them and from above!
When I walked in areas that have not been inspected yet by the UN, stood in a tunnel that was occupied by the evil people just days before, I honestly was a little shaken and nervous. However, being protected and walking along side some of the most courageous Assyrian men I’ve seen in my lifetime, I was truly inspired and it gave me the courage. I was touched to see the look of pride and joy on the face of those men walking me around and I’m glad that I helped in lifting their spirit. What can be more honorable than putting your life at risk to protect your people and land? They are totally fearless. May God and our savior Jesus bless them and protect them always!
Sargon: You’ve released 20 albums so far. Starting with “Hal Eiman” in 1983 to your most recent album in 2015 titled “Poolada”. And here you are, decades later, your songs are the most popular being performed everywhere, sometimes even by other singers. During your musical journey, did you have a sense of where you would be by this stage in your artistic life?
Linda: Indeed. I’m exactly where I should be, singing for Mesopotamian Night! It is time for me to make the crossover from performing at dance concerts worldwide and start introducing Mesopotamian Night globally, where legendary singers and other new talents can perform to ensure and preserve the purity of the Assyrian music.
Sargon: Some of our people consider music a hobby or a side job. You and a few of our singers have proved otherwise, making it a full-time career. Throughout this long career, what have been the most difficult obstacles that you have faced?
Linda: I have great love and passion for music. I take it very seriously, just as the CEO would take their role in a major company. I work hard to produce an album, but lately, it is very difficult to do in this age of social media where people are posting our music for free! Our fans have not been very devoted in supporting our hard work, sad to say. We have thousands of families worldwide that listen to our music. It’s a shame that we can’t even get 10 thousand purchases on iTunes or hard copies so we can continue to produce and improve our audio and video productions.
Sargon: Many of the people in our community are now calling you the “Queen” of Assyrian song. What is music to you? How do you assess your development as a musician?
Linda: Music is in my DNA so I have passion and love for it. I have infused my passion and love into every one of my productions over the past 3 decades. My proudest accomplishment is being able to produce versatile tunes that attract old and young listeners. However, I’m mainly thankful to my Lord who gave me these vocal chords that my fans have admired so much. It’s very nice and humbling to gain that title from our people and I promise them that I will always be a servant to my Lord and my Nation. To stay grounded and be earthly is a must. God has given me the wings to fly and my fans are the winds that take me high!
Sargon: You started singing at the age of five at St. Mary’s Church in Baghdad, Iraq. In 1979, soon after immigrating to Chicago, you continued singing with the church choir. At the age of 15, you recorded your debut song “Dalaleh” with the legendary Assyrian singer Sargon Gabriel. Considering your enduring and successful career, who were some of the people that helped you throughout your life, impacting your musical career?
Linda: Some of the people that have impacted me include Rabi Qasha Younan and his deacons at St Mary’s Assyrian Church in New Baghdad that discovered me at the age of 5 and put me in the first row for the Christmas show for the National Iraqi Television.
The legend, Sargon Gabriel, discovered me artistically when he heard my voice singing one of his songs right after we arrived in the USA.
My mom and my sisters who managed me till I became the whole note!
And of course all the composers and arrangers that have helped me choose the best from their productions.
Sargon: There is no doubt about the exceptional singing ability that you have, however, it’s worth noting that you have composed music for about 45 of your songs and wrote lyrics for another 20. How important is it for a singer to write their own lyrics or to compose music?
Linda: Indeed, a true artist has a complex set of emotions. It’s truly a great gift when an artist transforms those emotions and their own life experiences into lyrical form and music which is then shared with their fans.
Sargon: When you decide to use others to compose or write music for you, what is the process that goes in your mind?
Linda: I have a very hectic schedule so when I hear a melody in my head, I start humming it with few words. Then I contact a lyricist and start defining the main concept of the song. I did that in numerous songs, such as “Ana Shima Itlie” where I wrote the first line and the melody. I then gave it to the great poet, Mr. Orahim Lazar, who ended up writing a phenomenal song!
Sargon: I don’t mean to put you on the spot, but what is your assessment of our young Assyrian composer George Somi and dear Devin Farney that are orchestrating your songs for Mesopotamian Night?
Linda: George Somi and Devin Farney are two humble, super-talented young men that I’m fortunate to have my songs orchestrated by them. Thanks to you, Meso team.
Sargon: Upon reflecting on our music – the past, today and the future, what are your thoughts about Assyrian music?
Linda: The Assyrian music in the past was fortunate to have legends that were born into it. Today, we still have those same legendary singers and others that are singing their songs. As for the future, we truly cannot continue to rely on the previous work; we need great voices and musicians that work hard, along with a major production label in order to save the entire Assyrian language, music and culture.
Sargon: From your perspective, how important are productions such as Mesopotamian Night for musicians and for our community.
Linda: Mesopotamian Night is providing the essence for true Assyrian Music and its survival.
Sargon: What lies ahead for you? Are you working on a new CD or anything special?
Linda: I’m currently working on some videos from my last albums “Poolada”. Also, working on my 20th album that will be released for the upcoming year, God willing!
Sargon: Finally, Do you have a message for our artists, writers; poets, composers, musicians, painters, dancers, and so on?
Linda: I have infinite respect for every true artist that produced genuine Assyrian art for this nation without a country. For we all produced it from the heart, expecting nothing in return. The true artists that made significant difference in our nation will always be remembered by their great artistic production. I urge you creating something from the heart that is truly original. In the end we will all be remembered by our original styles! A style that defines our iconic figure to the generation to come